A View from our Watts Middle Schools
Gompers Middle School
By Ananth S. Iyengar
7th Grade History Teacher &
Social Studies Department Chair
|No one is ever really ready for their first day at Gompers. Veterans and greenhorns alike get chewed up and spit out a different person after a year of teaching at Gompers. I was no different.
Four years ago, I showed up to teach at Gompers as a young, idealistic, first year, Teach for America corps member ready to change the world. I was hired two days before school started and taught my first two weeks of classes with forty to forty-five students in each class and enough chairs to seat twelve students. Starting the year off this way set the precedent for a year full of frustration and failure. Never before had I failed at something so utterly and completely.
My kids barely learned that year, fights in my classroom were common, and many of my students probably hated me and told me so in less eloquent words quite often. Despite the mental, emotional, and yes, even the physical beating I took, somehow I endured and maybe even enjoyed it.
After that year I vowed never to allow myself to be caught so absolutely unprepared again and spent my summer carefully analyzing everything that had gone wrong. I came back my second year with a vengeance and have been avenging my failure ever since.
In some ways, Gompers is like the Island from the television show “Lost.” Like the island, surviving at Gompers requires one to challenge themselves and evolve in ways they never thought possible. I came to Gompers feeling like a kid and now, four years later, I feel like I have grown ten years older. One learns that at schools like Gompers, successful teachers do not and cannot simply instruct their students and leave when the bell rings. Students at Gompers require more than simple instruction. Our students need attention, guidance, support, focus, and love. It is this lesson, amongst others, that I have taken to heart in my time at Gompers.
I have had my share of success at Gompers and I largely attribute it to a lesson I learned early on, the power of relationship building. Given the amount of abandonment, betrayal, and disappointment so many of our students have endured in their short lives, it seems only natural that many of them have difficulty trusting people who come into their lives claiming to be authority figures. I have learned that more than scaring them or forcing them to do work, the most effective way to teach is to set up a welcoming environment and build personal relationships with as many students as possible. My second year of teaching, I taught like a dictator and my students were terrified of me. When I finally realized that they were never going to go crazy like they did my first year, I loosened up and began to let my personality out. I began to get to know them on a personal level and try to get to know their families. As soon as kids understood that I was there to teach them, I wasn’t leaving, and that I genuinely cared about them, I saw my students’ achievement levels skyrocket.
As I have matured and grown up as a teacher and an adult, I have also had the opportunity to watch Gompers transform around me. The way the school has changed in the time I have been there is interesting to watch. In the four years I have worked there, I have seen two principals, more than ten assistant principals, and huge percentages of the staff turnover each year. The transition from my first year, when forty to fifty students roamed the campus at all times, to now when there are days I do not see any students out of class is telling of the kids of changes that have taken place. The biggest change came after my second year, when we got a new administration, a lot of talented, young teachers, and the Partnership came to our school.
While it is difficult to attribute the improvement I have seen in the past two years to any single entity, I can safely say that the combination of all three groups of newcomers have impacted our campus in a way unlike any I have seen in the past. I have seen increases in student achievement instructional rigor, and overall accountability. The new teachers that have come to Gompers have been hardworking, talented, well supported, and have inspired those of us who have been around to get a second wind. The administration has been ready and willing to make the changes necessary to improve Gompers. The Partnership has extended to Gompers the opportunities, funding, and support that were badly needed for so long.
Personally, I love coming to work every day. Even on rough days, there is always at least one child at school who makes coming to work worth it. Teaching at Gompers and schools like it is like being a rock star. Every time you come out of your classroom, there are so many kids that want to come shake your hand, and copy you, and hang out with you. With positive reinforcement like that, why would you need any other reason to come to work every day? Ultimately, Gompers is still a difficult school with a wide range of problems, but for the first time as a teacher there, I am given hope that there is light at the end of the tunnel. Although things do not always work out at Gompers, when they do, it is inspiring enough continue the fight. I do not know what the future holds for Gompers, but I do know that I like the changes that I have been seeing. I hope our school continues to improve and keep our goal in mind, our kids deserve it.